July 2016

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Editorial Comment: Innovation in the downstream

In early June, Hydrocarbon Processing held its annual International Refining and Petrochemical Conference (IRPC). In its seventh year, the technical conference and exhibition returned to Italy for two full days of downstream technical presentations.

Nichols, Lee, Hydrocarbon Processing Staff

In early June, Hydrocarbon Processing held its annual International Refining and Petrochemical Conference (IRPC). In its seventh year, the technical conference and exhibition returned to Italy for two full days of downstream technical presentations.

This year’s theme was “Innovation in the Downstream,” and many of the topics, papers, and presentations prepared for the event directly mirrored the focus of this issue of Hydrocarbon Processing—the “refinery of the future.” IRPC included a deep technical program on topics such as refining, process optimization, plant design, water management, clean fuels, maintenance and reliability, safety, catalysts, plant efficiency and emerging technologies. These topics collectively make up what the refinery of the future will look like.

How will crude oil refineries operate in the future? What new technologies are on the horizon to improve efficiency? These technologies include not only economic and operational aspects, such as energy usage, but also the development of new processing technologies, control rooms, operations, predictable maintenance and safety. Going forward, the refinery of the future will be more digitized than ever before. Thousands of sensors can provide operators with many pages of data points on equipment conditions, operational processes, fluid flows and the like, all while accessing actionable items from a remote monitoring system located thousands of miles away.

These topics will grow in importance to the downstream industry moving forward, and will be covered in this and other issues of Hydrocarbon Processing, along with advances in plant processes, catalysts, process control and instrumentation, maintenance, water management, environment and safety, and cyber security.

The last topic, cyber security, is becoming a much larger issue as the downstream industry becomes increasingly digitized. How good is a top-performing refinery if hackers are able to infiltrate operations and wreak havoc on plant systems? These complex facilities must identify cyber security risks and implement programs and strategies to mitigate these risks to their systems. New industrial cyber security threats and vulnerabilities appear on a daily basis and can quickly undermine the effectiveness of established cyber security measures.

The advances mentioned above will also provide the refinery of the future with the tools to create the highest-value products to the global marketplace. This process will encompass the development of clean, low-sulfur fuels, such as Tier III specifications in the US and Euro 5- and Euro 6-specified fuels in Europe, China and India. The development of cleaner-burning fuels is a primary focus for not only established regions, but also for emerging economies in Asia-Pacific and the Middle East. These emerging economies are building some of the most advanced refineries on the planet. These plants will provide high-quality fuels for domestic use, as well as for export. The global market is demanding higher-value products, and refiners must adapt out of necessity.

These changes and adaptations come at a time when refineries are investing to curb emissions and monitor energy efficiency. These facilities are held to strict regulations that will remain in force into the future, and are likely to increase in intensity. It is imperative that these facilities invest in future operations to secure efficiency and profitability in the face of strict environmental and political governance.

In addition, the refinery of the future will need to maneuver in step with global downstream trends. These trends include growth in renewable energy usage, biofuels blending, market volatility, and efficiency improvements. All of these factors will help shape the downstream industry and define the refinery of the future. HP

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